The following is an interview between myself and former Reds reliever, Bill Bray. With the initials “JB” and italics are the questions, the regular font along with the initials “BB” are Bill’s answer.
We thank Bill for taking some time out to speak with us. Follow him on Twitter at @wpbray.
JB: Last time we spoke with you 12 months ago, you were still pondering a big league comeback while going back to school. For those that may not know your story, what has happened since then?
BB: Well, actually about a year ago, I found out that I re-tore my labrum and that’s when I decided to retire. School [William & Mary College] is going well; I graduate in May, and then I start law school in September.
JB: You’ve had multiple significant injuries to your throwing arm, what is that feeling like—both mentally and physically?
BB: Mentally it’s exhausting. I just had my shoulder fixed four weeks ago, so I finally had time to recover, but it’s just mentally exhausting. Physically, it’s not too bad; it’s just a part of life. The elbow was definitely a lot easier than the shoulder, especially when it comes to sleep.
JB: Under new commissioner Rob Manfred, there are two proposed rule changes: a pitch clock for pitchers, and the elimination of defensive shifts. Where do you sit on these issues?
BB: I don’t like the pitch clock. If you’re really that intent on speeding up the game, I think there are other ways to do it, and my normal response to that is that it sounds like it was a rule made up by people who have never pitched in front of 45,000 people. I would hate to see a game decided because you got called for a ball for taking too long to deliver the pitch. At the same time, what’s the situation going to be like for that? Are they going to blow a horn like the NBA does?
Sometimes you’re out there, and even with nobody on base, you disagree with the catcher. You have to shake through four pitches. I’m just kind of curious to see how they would do it.
That one’s [defensive shifts] a little tougher. My personal opinion is that if you’re a Major League hitter, you’re good enough to hit the ball the other way. A couple of times you could drop down a bunt, or slapping the ball to the opposite field will get rid of that shift real quick.
JB: While we’re on the topic of Commissioner Manfred, what do you make of Pete Rose’s newest appeal to have his ban lifted? Should it be?
BB: Oh man, this is a Reds blog; this is dangerous territory. But I can’t do it. My gosh, he’s such a great player, but with everything’s that happened, I can’t do it. Gambling is the cardinal sin of baseball. But after 25 years of being away, I’d like him to have more of a presence within the game because he does have a lot to share, but at the same time, I’m not sure I’d put him up for the Hall of Fame.
You know, everybody deserves a second chance in some ways. If there was a way to give him restricted access, or something, to celebrate what he’s done, but at the same time, he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs, which I think is reprehensible as well.
JB: On a happier note, pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 18. Are all the guys who get there this early really enthused about arriving to camp so soon?
BB: Absolutely. I used to show up a week or two before Spring Training, before we were even required there. I loved showing up to Spring Training early, and you know, I always drove. So whether it was a 15-hour drive, or an 18-hour drive, I always liked to show up early to get acclimated and measure myself, too. Going from Florida to Arizona, or Texas to Arizona, I wanted to run on my time.
Plus, it was nice to see your friends–you have that extra time to hang out.
JB: Before we speak on the Reds, what do you make of the Chicago Cubs and their overhaul of moves this off-season—can they win it all this year?
BB: You know, I don’t know. I would probably say they’re the most improved team, between them, the [San Diego] Padres, and [Miami] Marlins. I would never put it past Theo Epstein, I mean, he slayed the Curse of the Bambino in Boston. If there’s a GM out there that could potentially reverse the Chicago curse, it’s him.
They got a whole heck of a lot better this off-season. I mean, I love the pick-up of [Jon] Lester. I think he’s going to be a great pitcher, and while I think it’s a big contract for a guy his age, but at the same time, he has a little bit of Tom Glavine in him with the potential to dominate into his mid-to-late-30s, it’s him.
JB: The Cubs cannot be bad forever. They have an entire overhaul of young kids coming eventually and it may be their time to shine sooner rather than later.
BB: You look even 10 years ago when they were winning 100 games with Dusty Baker, and even though they didn’t go anywhere in the Playoffs, they were still winning. I think they have a really good manager to go along with a really good team. They’re going to be good, the Brewers are going to be good, the Pirates are going to be good; all the clubs in the Central are going to be good, it’s just a shame the Astros left.
JB: This will be the money question for many reading: Where do you see the Reds this year? In my opinion, I could see them finishing in first, just as realistically as I could see them finishing in last. What say you?
BB: I’m going to say first place or wild card. If you’re going to make me pick one, I’d say wild card.
JB: For whatever reason, I feel like a majority of the fan base has been taken aback by the way the 2010 and 2012 Playoffs went down with such crushing defeats. Does that factor in at all?
BB: You know, there were some years in there where guys were hurt. Specifically, last year. You look at it where Votto was hurt, Phillips was hurt, Jay Bruce was hurt and probably came back too early from his injury, Homer Bailey was hurt, but right now you have Sean Marshall coming back who was hurt too.
The team is looking good, as long as they’re healthy. That’s kind of the idea behind every team. The Reds have just enough, if not more, talent than every team out there.
JB: Where do you sit on the never-ending Joey Votto debate: Is he one of the game’s best players, or is his status overinflated by his contract?
BB: Any time you give a guy $20+ million a year, I think there’s always going to be talk of him being overpaid. It is legitimate; any time the guy gets hurt, he becomes overpaid.
As far as being a pure hitter goes, the Wade Boggs comparison [made by Jonah Keri of Grantland.com] is an excellent one. I’ve seen so few guys with the bat control and the eye for the zone like Joey. His numbers have been great except for last year, when he was injured all year.
JB: Votto has been fantastic prior to 2014. But you know as well as anybody that baseball is a year-to-year business with the type of “What have you done for me lately?” mentality.
BB: He had three or four great years before last season. And then the injury happened last year. What I think a lot of people don’t realize is that baseball is a seven-day-a-week sport for six months. Your body just doesn’t heal; you get an injury like that, it doesn’t go away. And it definitely played a part in his down numbers last year. I think it was smart that he rested the rest of the way once the team was out of the playoff picture, and I know a lot of people thought he should have come back in September and played, but you want him healthy for this year, and rushing him back and getting him hurt in September doesn’t do you any good for 2015 when you’re already out of the picture for 2014.
JB: I’m sure your dream growing up was like nearly every boys—to be a Major Leaguer. Now that you’ve accomplished that, what’s your next dream job?
BB: Well, that’s where a law degree comes in. I want to do something in baseball, whether it’s running a team, helping run Major League Baseball, or I’d love to be one of the lead business negotiators for the Players Association. I definitely know that what I want to do is still be in baseball.